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Verbum Caro Factum Est A Christmas Greeting
Masato Suzuki (organ)
Bach Collegium Japan Chorus/Masaaki Suzuki
rec. 2018, Kobe Shoin Women’s University Chapel, Japan
Full texts and translations included
Reviewed in Stereo and Surround
BIS BIS-2291 SACD [68:21]

The Bach Collegium Japan’s annual Christmas Eve concert at the Suntory Hall in Tokyo is a recent initiative; the first was held in 2013. The present disc contains a compilation of carols used in these recent events, all have been arranged by Masato Suzuki who has planned and organised each concert. The Bach Collegium Chorus is inevitably conducted by his father, Masaaki, while this recording was made in early 2018 in Suzuki pŤre’s home city of Kobe. The carols here are interspersed with seven pieces from Louis-Claude Daquin’s celebrated ‘New Book of Noels for Organ or Harpsichord’ (1757). These pieces comprise variations on traditional French carols, and over the centuries a couple of these pieces have become very well-known.

It’s a curious disc which to my mind can’t decide what it actually is or is meant to be. It opens with a version of Verbum caro factum est for solo voice, atmospherically rendered by Aki Matsui, one of the sopranos from the chorus; the closing three-part arrangement of the same carol acts as the recessional. To my ears the most enjoyable choral items are those that overlap with the group’s core repertoire, the Bach hymn Ich steh an deiner Krippen hier, and Samuel Scheidt’s O Jesulein sŁss, o Jesulein mild but in this context and in Suzuki fils’ syrupy arrangements even their impact is somewhat diluted. Despite the best efforts of this fine choir, I’m afraid I found the other choral items almost unlistenable. ‘Silent Night’ is schmaltzed up to the eyeballs, almost like a parody of Peter Warlock. I’m afraid I’ve always loathed ‘The First Nowell’; here Suzuki tries to inject some life into it by adding a hazy mystic-style intro it doesn’t need and a series of almost Eurovision-style modulations to the verses which finally kill it off. ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’ is sung in Japanese, and breaks into a reprise of Verbum caro factum est after the first verse; the return of Mendelssohn’s melody afterwards is jarring indeed. The ‘oom-pah’ arrangement of Adeste fidelis is frankly bizarre. There follows a medley of three carols which seem poorly juxtaposed. I take absolutely no pleasure in criticising what is clearly a well-intentioned recital from a group who over the years have virtually single-handedly reinvigorated my love of Bach’s cantatas, and maybe this sort of festive fare plays well with a Japanese audience, but the carols here left me open-mouthed for all the wrong reasons.

Furthermore, I find it odd that roughly half of the disc consists of organ music, in the shape of seven of Daquin’s celebrated NoŽls. These are stylishly rendered by Masato Suzuki on a fine instrument, the 1983 Marc Garnier organ of the Shoin Chapel in Kobe. Suzuki’s colourful registrations consistently enliven music which possesses a winning joie de vivre as it is and frankly in the event I was glad these NoŽls do feature on this disc, regardless of its cumbersome layout. Suzuki’s accounts are certainly worth hearing. Which begs the question, why didn’t he simply record all twelve as part of a Christmas-themed organ recital? I find these fine accounts sit really uncomfortably with carol arrangements which at times approach the world of the Cliff Adams Singers and ‘Sing Something Simple’ for honeyed sentimentality. I have no qualms about the recording which is vivid enough in both formats – the Daquin pieces sound especially resplendent in the surround option. But the disc as a whole struck me as a rare disappointment from BIS and the Suzukis.

Richard Hanlon
 
Contents
Carols all arranged by Masato Suzuki
trad.: Verbum caro factum est [1:01]
Louis-Claude DAQUIN (1694-1772): Nouveau livre de noŽls, Op. 2/1 [3:45]
trad.: Let all mortal flesh keep silence [3:20]
Daquin: Nouveau livre de noŽls, Op. 2/2 [4:17]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Ich steh an deiner Krippen hier, BWV469 [2:32]
Daquin: Nouveau livre de noŽls, Op. 2/3 [6:13]
Franz Gruber: Silent Night, GWV 145 [3:19]
trad.: In Dulci Jubilo [1:36]
trad.: The First Nowell [4:01]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847) adap W.H. Cummings as Hark! The Herald Angels Sing) [4:42]
Anon/J F Wade: Adeste fidelis [2:28]
Three carols: Away In a Manger - It Came Upon The Midnight Clear - Ding, Dong! Merrily On High [3:58]
Daquin: Nouveau livre de noŽls, Op. 2/6 [4:54]
Daquin: Nouveau livre de noŽls, Op. 2/7 [3:39]
Samuel SCHEIDT (1587-1684): O Jesulein sŁss, o Jesulein mild [2:53]
Daquin: Nouveau livre de noŽls, Op. 2/10 [5:58]
trad.: O come, o come, Emmanuel [4:10]
Daquin: Nouveau livre de noŽls, Op. 2/12 [4:01]
trad.: Verbum caro factum est (arr. for 3 voices) [1:46]



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